Apr 30

Website conversion under way

By Rob Levandowski Administrative Comments Off on Website conversion under way

I’m making changes to macwhiz.com.

The blog is going to become the focal point of the site.  I’m moving all the static content over to WordPress, so it will be integrated with the blog.

Before the old content goes away, I’ll be adding redirects so that existing bookmarks will continue to work.

During this construction phase, you’ll notice the static content slowly getting added to the blog pages.

Please excuse the dust.

Apr 26

I first started cooking for myself in high school.  I think the thing that got me started was making homemade peanut butter cookies for a girl I was sweet on.  (She enjoyed them, but not enough to dump her boyfriend and take a good hard look at me.  But I digress.)

In college, I lived in a dorm that was at the outskirts of campus, a 20-minute walk from the nearest dining hall. This was in Rochester, NY; for those not familiar with the area, Rochester is famous for its lake-effect snow.  It usually starts snowing in late October and lets up sometime in April.  This dorm was originally built as graduate housing, so each 2- or 3-bedroom suite included a kitchen and a bathroom.  I very quickly decided to take full advantage of the kitchen, and I almost always cooked my own dinner.

My early companion in learning how to cook was the venerable Joy of Cooking.  I’m not going to link to that book; you can find it easily enough at any bookstore.  Why not?  Because I now know that a lot of the advice in that historic tome is just plain wrong.  I weep for the number of home cooks that have been lead astray by that book.

When I really decided to take my cooking past the “competent at preparing basic food” stage and learn how to truly cook, I was heavily influenced by Alton Brown and Iron Chef.  But there was one discovery that truly helped me take it to the next level.

Cook’s Illustrated.

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Apr 25

What a twit…

By Rob Levandowski Administrative Comments Off on What a twit…

I now have a Twitter account. Follow me to get notifications of new blog postings.


Apr 18

I love JIRA, I really do, so long as I never have to do any administration to it.

I’ve got a JIRA instance set up as a household to-do system.  Today, I tried installing JIRA 4.1 as a test instance, upgrading from version 4.0.  It turns out I won’t be making that upgrade for real any time soon, as 4.1 breaks many of the plugins I need for my JIRA workflow.  If I upgraded, I’d cripple my setup beyond usability.

Unfortunately, Atlassian has chosen to leave many obvious and necessary workflow actions out of JIRA, instead relying upon third-party plugins to provide them.  This wouldn’t be a problem if Atlassian didn’t change their plugin API more often than Tiger Woods picks up new sexual partners.

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Apr 17

An open letter to cellular companies

By Rob Levandowski Uncategorized Comments Off on An open letter to cellular companies

Dear Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile:

You’re losing out on a big opportunity.

There is a product that you could introduce with off-the-shelf hardware that would fly off the shelves if you priced it properly. Some of you already offer something very close to this product, but you treat it as a red-headed stepchild and hobble it.

There are now hundreds of thousands of iPad owners who have the WiFi-only model and are discovering that there are places they wish they had connectivity. You could be capitalizing on this buyer’s remorse.

If you offered a small 3G-to-WiFi router that was designed to be mounted in a car, and bundled it with service plans that approximated Apple’s deal with AT&T—no contract, limited or unlimited, come and go at will, and pricing in the $20-$40/month range—you could pick up a lot of customers.

By making the device designed to operate in a car, you’d limit it to mobile use. It’d be more difficult to use it instead of a broadband connection in the home. That’d inherently limit any perceived “abuse” of your networks.

You’d have to price it to compete with the 3G iPad. Yes, it’s not as lucrative as the gold-plated Cadillac data plans you’re offering with similar products today… but really, how well are those things selling outside of the dedicated road-warrior outside salesman market? Think big: a little money from a lot of people.

Heck, you could even design the unit so it only operates on the 5GHz 802.11n frequencies. That would keep it from penetrating walls efficiently and effectively tie it to the iPad; Apple’s practically the only company that offers 5GHz functionality across its line. Then you could still sell the rip-off routers to people that want 2.4GHz. Plus, then the device wouldn’t be competing for the scarce spectrum allocated to 2.4GHz WiFi.

So how about it? The world might not beat a path to your door, but I know I would, and I bet a good percentage of the half-million or so other iPad early adopters would as well. It would be an effective way to work around AT&T’s U.S. monopoly on 3G iPad connectivity.

Apr 17

After two weeks, I still really like my iPad, and it has replaced my Mac for a lot of things. It’s with me almost constantly. In many ways, it is the revolution of computing that it’s made out to be. There are still some rough edges, though.

I’ve gotten more used to the onscreen keyboard. It was great to discover that you can type an apostrophe by touching the comma key and sliding your finger upward. That was one of the most glaring problems I’d had—having to go into the numeric mode to type punctuation. There are other shortcuts like that hidden throughout the keyboard.

Even so, the lack of number keys still bothers me. Even more is the semi-smart behavior of the numeric mode. It’s hard to predict exactly when it will decide to switch itself back to the alphabetic keyboard. Typing an apostrophe seems to trigger an immediate switch when you’re in the middle of typing a word. Typing a space does it reliably, which is really annoying when you’re filling out a form with a phone number.

I just picked up an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, and I’m using that to write this blog entry. So far, it seems like an improvement as far as typing goes… but it does bring up the fact that the iPad desperately needs some sort of stand to use with the keyboard. The reason it needs a stand so desperately is the high-glare screen.

Apple’s worst design decision with the iPad was the high-gloss glass screen. Yes, it feels slick to the touch, and it’s probably easier to keep clean than a matte finish. However, it’s also utterly impossible to use comfortably under office lighting. Any sort of overhead light, or lighting behind you, or for that matter sunlight, will make it difficult to impossible to see the iPad’s screen. If someone comes out with a good antiglare overlay, I’ll buy it in short order.

Mobile Safari works well. It’s particularly good at pointing out web pages whose authors have made unwarranted assumptions about screen size and CSS layout code. There are a lot of web pages that are illegible upon first loading. Thankfully, the double-tap-to-zoom function works brilliantly.

The AIM app is a big disappointment, although some of that has to be laid upon how AOL has implemented multiple sign ins. When you leave the AIM app to do something else, after a while your buddies may not see you online, which makes the push notification feature a bit useless. When you get a push notification, you’re offered a choice of “view” or “close.” If you choose “close,” the IM may disappear from the iPad without a trace. OK, I thought, I’ll leave iChat logged in on my Mac to catch those messages. Well, no matter what AOL claims on their website, it seems essentially random as to which AIM session, if any, will receive messages when you do this. Apple and AOL need to collaborate on making multiple logins more useful in the context of portable devices.

Too many apps “drop state” when you leave them to check something in another app, especially if you’re in an “add item” or similar composing sort of mode. This becomes annoying quickly, and is probably the biggest reason why the iPad’s lack of multitasking is an issue.

If you walk around with an iPad, you’ll attract attention. The one thing you won’t hear, however, is “What is that?” It’s a testament to Steve Job’s marketing prowess that everyone you meet will instead say “Isn’t that the iPad?” It seems like everyone knows about the thing and can recognize it even if they’ve never seen it. The next question is almost invariably “Do you like it?” Yes, I do, for all that I see the rough edges.

I do wish I’d waited for the 3G model. There aren’t as many wireless hotspots in my area as I’d thought, and where there are hotspots… the iPad’s internal antenna is… quirky. Sometimes it works quite well. Often, it fails to pick up signals that laptops pick up fine. Occasionally it will ping-pong back and forth between strong signal and no signal while you hold it stationary in one spot. When it switches base stations, it interrupts your work with a “Connecting…” message for a second or two. This annoys me, because I have two base stations in the house for coverage. They’re on the same network and have the same SSID. Every other WiFi device I have switches seamlessly between them, but the iPad struggles with it. I hope Apple will release a firmware update that addresses this.

But, although I complain—products can’t improve if people don’t complain—I still love the thing, it’s my constant companion from the time I wake up to the time I sleep, and it’s definitely the future of computing. It won’t replace my desktop computer, but for most of the day it does supplant it.

Apr 12

[Edit: added one of the biggest examples i forgot while drafting this: the JIRA dashboard.]

I’m not particularly fond of Linux. I’ve used it, and it’s good for many things, but as a professional system administrator I prefer Solaris, or FreeBSD, or even Mac OS X (as a UNIX). Why? A great many of the Linux enthusiasts I’ve had to deal with have suffered from what I call Shiny Object Development Syndrome (SODS).

SODS is characterized by a tendency to concentrate on developing new features that are pleasing and attractive to the developer, with a complete disregard to the usefulness, usability, or basic function of the product itself. It is particularly prevalent amongst open-source developers, particularly those who work on obscure Linux distributions.

Developers who suffer from SODS are often heard replying to legitimate user complaints with some variation on “you can fix it yourself if it’s important to you, the source code is available.”

Sometimes SODS infects an entire organization. When this happens to a company with paying clients, symptoms include: refusal to fix longstanding bugs; failure to supply updates to widely-deployed, stable versions when longstanding bugs are finally addressed; issuing updates that break existing functionality such as extensions, plug-ins, or settings.

Terminal company-wide SODS often reveals itself as intractable bugs pile up because the new shiny features beloved of the developers and the marketing department depend upon so much spaghetti code that it becomes impossible to fix all the problems without starting over from scratch. By this stage, the company usually begins to hemorrhage users as the cost of migrating to another platform becomes cheaper than dealing with the SODS-ridden status quo.

A good example of a company full of SODS is Atlassian.

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Apr 06

Some iPad thoughts

By Rob Levandowski Uncategorized Comments Off on Some iPad thoughts

My coworker Jack expressed a thought about the iPad that I have had myself a few times over the past few days. While it’s a great too, and does many things well, it is a bit on the large IDE to be one’s constant companion. It would be awesome if Apple released something in between the iPad and the iPhone. Something paperback-sized. Something that would fit in cargo shorts.

I also have a few gripes about the onscreen keyboard. Typing on it isn’t a problem, per se. The thing is the keys that it’s missing.

The worst omission is the apostrophe key. You have to go into a submenu to get that. If you are used to touch-typing, you will find yourself hitting Return a lot when you mean to use an apostrophe. Your alternatives are to learn to type without them (and hope that the autocorreect does the right thing, not always possible with English’s homophones), or press a button to make the keyboard switch to “symbol mode.” That’s quite annoying.

The other problem is that there are no number keys on the main keypad, even in portrait orientation where there is plenty of room to have them.

I’d rather have a smaller visible arrea above the keyboard and have number keys and an onscreen apostrophe.

Maybe the idea is to sell more Bluetooth keyboards…

If someone comes up with a decent iPad case having an integrated Bluetooth keyboard, even if the keyboard is largely rubbish, it will sell like Ames.

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Apr 03

If you’ve read my article “The Art of Turboing,” you know that I’ve had run-ins with UPS before. Years ago, they didn’t offer package tracking for ground shipments.

Although UPS has fixed that, the tracking service they offer… Lies.

It lies often.

What’s the point in having package tracking if it’s so unreliable that you can’t trust it?

I know that Apple requested extra security for the iPad rollout. I can understand not wanting to advertise where a shipping depot might have a large number of prerelease iPads. But surely there was a way to do it that wouldn’t cause anxiety for thousands of expectant customers? This reflected badly not just on UPS, but on Apple as well. It seems odd that Steve Jobs, notorious perfectionist, would accept this kind of inattention to detail from a vendor.

My iPad was shipped from China on the 29th of March. UPS quickly showed it making its way to Alaska, and then to Louisville, Kentucky. It then sat there for days. OK, so far nothing too strange.

Of course, that’s the story now. If you had been watching the package’s progress, you would have seen a number of entries related to clearing Customs. They disappeared from the record a few hours after they appeared.

There was one cryptic entry entitled “UPS Internal Activity” that appeared for a brief while before disappearing. The most interesting part about that entry was that it had a timestamp 10 hours in the future.

At least that entry had a local location stamp. That was the only time that the tracked package appeared to move until it was actually delivered to me. As far as I could see, the package was stuck in Kentucky until being magically teleported into my hands.

At least UPS had two employees watching Twitter to reassure all the confused Apple customers.

FedEx gets this right. I don’t understand what’s so hard for UPS that they can’t master package tracking after all these years.

Certainly, if I have a package to send and I want to be able to track it, I’m not going to choose UPS after this experience!

The iPad did arrive safe and sound, eventually. I used it to compose this post.

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